John Kennedy Toole, author of A Confederacy of Dunces, never saw his novel get published. According to the book's forward, his mother persistently pushed the manuscript on an unwilling English professor after her son's death. When he finally read it to appease her, he found it impossible to put down, and quickly agreed it needed to be published (it eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction). I'm glad he did, because this book ranks among the funniest I've ever read.
All of the characters are drawn with such flair and audaciousness. The main character, the morbidly obese and pretentious Ignatius J. Reilly, has to be one of the most colorful antiheroes in literary history. He waddles around 1960s New Orleans spreading his peculiar brand of medieval nihilism, wreaking havoc and headaches for employers, his mom, her friends, and pretty much everyone with whom he comes into contact. I especially enjoyed the metropolitan setting, as Julia and I spent last New Years (exactly one year ago, at that) in New Orleans, and it was gratifying to read a narrative of the familiar street names and locales before they would forever be changed by the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.